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CHOLESTEROL… WHAT’S TO FEAR?
The target to be annihilated is “Cholesterolphobia”. Although this is not an accepted technical term, I can justify my coining it by the many perfect similarities with the general definition of the word “phobia”. First of all it represents an irrational fear, as the further arguments will tend to prove. Secondly, nowadays it has become almost omnipresent and very persistent. And, last but definitely not least, it has grown into a real plague, as it consumes people’s money, wastes their time, and erodes their precious, irrecoverable nerves. A pivotal point to specify is that “cholesterolphobia” is essentially different from anorexia, since its cause represents not so much the concern for a robust and statuesque figure, needless to mention any other reasonable concern for health, but rather a literal groundless aversion to the substance called “cholesterol”.
Most people nowadays hear the word “cholesterol” in a context of severe admonitions “reinforced” with esoteric scientific terms and principles that impress many, in spite of being confusing and fallacious. The notion “cholesterol” is usually served by the Mass Media and the countless bogus nutritional and dietary magazines in such an abusively spicy dressing that it really starts to burn the palate of people’s minds and shatters their appetite for anything that reminds them of this. Thanks to the Mass Media, which has done a great job disseminating the specious message of the imposing leading pharmaceutical companies of the world, “cholesterol” has definitely earned its place in the “top scary” list of the “Horror” encyclopedia among words like bogeyman, hydra, harpy, and chupakabra. The word “cholesterol” might soon be used by parents to scare teenagers just as efficiently as the word “caries” works with the naughty little chocolate-devouring kids who still remember their last appointment with the dentist. For instance, a mother could “persuade” her dear teenage-rebel to comply with the diet offered and give up chocolate, ice-cream, and various snacks with a statement like: “If you don’t do as I say, cholesterol will insidiously pervade your whole body, clogging up all your blood vessels one by one until, one day, you succumb to heart attack or stroke!” This sounds pretty convincing, doesn’t it?
Seriously speaking, many people really display an unwarranted tendency to believe that cholesterol is a particularly pernicious substance comparable in its toxicity to snake venom or any other deadly poison, which is a lamentable fallacy… Unfortunately the numerous schoolbooks of biology and, especially the countless nutrition brochures and diet leaflets never provide even rudimentary scientific information on this issue. Nevertheless, it is enough to open the simplest book on molecular biology for beginners in order to find the “real story” about cholesterol and dissipate any doubt about its functional importance…
What is cholesterol?
Due to strict necessity for cholesterol, it is naturally synthesized in our bodies all the time. It is produced primarily in the liver, but also by cells lining the small intestine and by individual cells in the body, summing up to about 1 gram per day. Our body also obtains cholesterol from the food we consume. And here comes the fact that eloquently demonstrates how exaggerated the fuss about cholesterol is: as a matter of fact, people normally take in up to 0.25g, though most consume much less, and even the most gluttonous greasy-food-junkie can hardly go up to about 0.4g. Thus, the quantity of cholesterol we get from food usually constitutes up to one-fourth, and can never reach even one half of the amount of cholesterol that our own body produces. The latter can’t be called into question since, first of all, as we all know, very greasy food causes nausea and leads inevitably to vomiting, which is a natural protective mechanism triggered by the insufficiency of bile and the resulting incapacity to digest. Besides, even if both the liver and the pancreas turned on some extra super generator due to “fat alert”, we just wouldn’t be able to stuff that much food into our stomachs!
Then there comes another argument against cholesterolphobia. It is the fact that the human body has the ability to gradually adapt to any kind of changes, especially when it comes to a simple reduction in its activity. Its physiological regulation is similar to the free market economy, in this case, tending to adjust the supply and demand of cholesterol. Thus, when more cholesterol is obtained from food while the physiological demand stays the same, the liver simply spares its own forces by reducing the amount of internal production. This adjustment is adequately coordinated in a healthy person, so that a little extra cholesterol should, in no circumstances, be taken as seriously as many people do nowadays. Besides, even if the liver still keeps producing cholesterol at approximately the same rate, normally the body will activate the disposal mechanism and eliminate the excess in order to maintain homeostasis.
Yet another momentous thing to mention is that, in fact, the cholesterol contained in food is not necessarily absorbed integrally! There is a difference between dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol you consume) and serum cholesterol (the cholesterol in your bloodstream). Dietary cholesterol is present in varying amounts in some food of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. However, dietary cholesterol does not necessarily become blood cholesterol when you eat it. Actually, it’s possible for some people to eat foods high in cholesterol and still have low blood cholesterol levels. Likewise, it’s possible to eat foods low in cholesterol and have a high blood cholesterol level. It all depends on the ability of the body to regulate its own internal environment!
Why is there so much talk about cholesterol in our diet?
“Good” cholesterol vs. “bad” cholesterol?
After a cell has used the cholesterol for its chemical needs and doesn’t need any more, it reduces its number of receptors for LDL. This makes LDL accumulate in the blood. If the body does not handle this problem promptly and properly, then the LDLs begin to discard and deposit cholesterol on artery walls, forming thick plaques. In contrast, the HDLs – “the good guys” – act to remove this excess cholesterol and transport it to the liver for disposal.
Not only does there exist a considerable difference between the amount of dietary cholesterol and the level of serum cholesterol, but also “blood cholesterol” is a rather inappropriate term. The “serum cholesterol” level is, in fact, represented by the total amount of lipoproteins, but not by actual free cholesterol, which, as mentioned previously, is not water-soluble. However, the plaque consists mainly of the pure cholesterol freed from the LDL molecules due to the very fact that cholesterol, once freed, can no longer travel through the plasma normally and precipitates on the walls of the blood vessels. Thus, a high concentration of LDL in the blood does not inevitably lead to plaque formation. The fact that many people munch popcorn and snacks at the cinema does not necessarily mean that there will be huge filthy piles of litter in the movie theater in the end, does it? In a “wholesome” society, most people have the propriety to take the rubbish to the closest trashcan. Likewise, in a healthy body, the lipoproteins take the cholesterol to its destination point, without simply discarding it randomly throughout the circulatory system!
Contrary to public opinion, the key phrase when referring to the cause of atherosclerosis should be “healthy body”, but not “wholesome diet”. As a matter of fact, many recent research results, the accuracy of which has not been affected by any of the highly influential pharmaceutical producers of blood-cholesterol-lowering drugs, show that cholesterol level is not appreciably influenced by diet. So, instead of completely eliminating many highly nutritional alimentary products from their diets just because these contain cholesterol, people had better try to improve their way of life through regular physical exercise, systematic walks, and maintaining a natural general state of well being.
What causes an elevated level of cholesterol?
There are also variable extrinsic factors that can, in some way, influence the cholesterol level.
Research results on Cholesterol-Heart Disease
But, even after their first hypothesis was incontrovertibly refuted, the cholesterol-lowering-diet proponents quickly put forth another one: “It is not cholesterol in the diet that causes the cholesterol level to rise, it is the consumption of saturated fat”. However, this one proved to be even more tenuous, and was soon crushed too. There was prompt feedback again, this time stating that: “It’s not saturated fat in the diet, it’s the ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat ratio…” And this really reminds me of the funny situation in which a desperate truant kid keeps concocting one lame excuse after another right before the vexed teacher’s eyes.
Uffer Ravnskov, a Finnish medical practitioner, has demonstrated just how the establishment maintains orthodoxy in defiance of overwhelming contrary evidence. He looks at all the evidence, not just the papers favored by the establishment, and disposes of the myths one by one.
The easiest way to keep the established theory popular is, of course, by concealing, or, at least, ignoring any facts that are inconvenient. The sheer brass neck with which authors select their data is truly astonishing. Ravnskov cites several cases where the summary of a paper is at variance with its content. Subsequent authors, of course, only look at the summary or, more often, an account of it by someone else. Ravnskov describes a typical case, in which two papers giving the results of trials were published in the same journal. The one whose results did not support the orthodoxy received 15 citations over the next four years. The one favoring the orthodoxy, however, received 612 citations in the same period.
These are just some of the many methods used to prop up the myths that have provided the foundation for huge industries, the cholesterol one being worth billions of dollars. They enable academics to earn reputations, establish large departments, and win prizes, all this being done with minimal mental exertion. Nevertheless, fortunately, there still are a few “little boys who are prepared to point out that the king has no clothes!” Healthy diets are advisable, but not to be transformed into a ludicrous, deleterious obsession. And they should be really healthy, because excluding vital types of food from one’s diet, fasting, and starving can by no means be considered “healthy”. And, while there really are reasons why we should limit the amount of certain criticized products, the actual reason is usually related to the cooking method, not its natural composition. In this respect, we had better go back in history and listen to what Mark Twain says: